March 2022: Ramon Lopez
The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas
- Member since 1994
- Arlington, Texas
I was always interested in science as a kid, and as a child of Gemini and Apollo, I was fascinated by space. I wanted to know how the universe worked. In 6th grade, I learned that the people who studied the basics of the universe were called physicists, and that is what I told my parents I was going to be. Also, teaching runs in my family. My mother was a teacher, as was my grandfather (and my children are as well). Thus, throughout my education leading to a Ph.D. in space physics and beyond, I was always involving myself in education and loving it. Throughout my career, I gained great satisfaction teaching and working with students. And although I have been very successful as a space scientist, I would say that my contributions to society from my work in education significantly outweigh my contributions through scientific research.
A rather circuitous path led to me being hired as the APS Director on Education and Outreach in 1994 when the APS moved to College Park, MD (I was a research scientist at the University of Maryland at the time). That is when I found out about AAPT and promptly joined. Up to that point, my education work had been in elementary school science education reform and curriculum development. However, with the resources and the community that the AAPT provides, I began to move my emphasis to secondary and post-secondary physics education, and I added physics education as a second research area to complement my work in space plasma physics. I have graduated three Ph.D. students in physics education research, and I have a fourth student who will give his first AAPT presentation at the 2022 summer meeting. AAPT has been my professional home for this second line of scholarly work, and I have benefited enormously from my involvement in AAPT meetings and other activities of the society. In 2017, I was very proud to be elected a Fellow of the AAPT.
My contributions to physics education outside the classroom have been varied. There are papers that I have published on topics like visual cognition and the use of research-based pedagogy in upper-division and graduate classes. I have worked on curriculum projects like Active Physics, for which I was one of the writers. I have been very active in working with the College Board. I was on the Physics AP conceptual redesign team. I have worked on the Physics SAT exam. I am currently the Chair of the Science Academic Advisory Committee, and I was one of the authors of the physics section College Board Standards for College Success. I was also a member of the Leadership Team that directed the writing of the Next Generation Science Standards. In that capacity, I worked on both the secondary Physical Science and Earth and Space Science standards and directed the writing of the K-5 standards. In Texas, I worked in various roles, helping with the state science standards and assessments in physics, and I am a Co-Director of our UTeach Arlington teacher preparation program. I am Co-PI on a project led by Karen Jo Matsler to provide resources for teaching Quantum Information Science to high school teachers. I also lead an AAPT project funded by NASA to develop materials for physics education in college and high school classes that use a heliophysics context. This project allows me to blend my love of space science and physics education through the connections that my membership in AAPT has provided.